He Knew City Hall Was All About People
LOWELL -- Michael Demaras always had a notepad and pen in the front seat of his car.
If he saw graffiti or a pothole while driving around Lowell, Demaras would jot it down, recalled his son, Christopher Demaras, in a eulogy for his father.
“He was constantly making Lowell a better place for everyone,” Christopher Demaras said.
Lifelong Democrat Michael Demaras died March 1 at 66, following a 45-year career with the city and decades of work on local and state campaigns.
Born in Brockton, Demaras moved to Lowell as a child. Friends and family believe his interest in politics took hold early. Demaras watched John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address urging listeners to contribute to the public good.
“My dad took every one of these words to heart,” Christopher Demaras said.
Demaras went on to graduate from Lowell High School and later University of Lowell with a degree in politics.
After college, he started working in the Department of Public Works Water Division, beginning his long career in the city. For 17 years before his retirement in March 2018, Demaras worked in Neighborhood Services, a job those who knew him say matched his desire to help.
His friend Greg Pappas recalled hearing Demaras got a snow pile obstructing the view of drivers turning onto Middlesex Street removed, after a resident called him with her concern. It was a small change, but one of countless issues Demaras responded to over his years in the position, Pappas said.
“A lot of people feel government is impersonal,” Pappas said. “Mike made it personal. ... He put a face on it.”
Pappas currently works in Secretary of the State’s office and served as a member of the Democratic State Committee alongside Demaras.
Back in 1983, Pappas and Demaras met on Robert Kennedy’s Lowell City Council campaign -- an effort that forged a number life-long friendships among the young campaign workers. They would later work on Kennedy’s campaign for Governor’s Council, which the candidate won by one vote, he said.
Amid the campaigning, staffers would talk. Pappas remembers a story Demaras told about knocking on Lowell resident Jack Kerouac’s front door as a teen in the late 1960s and offering to cut the author’s overgrown lawn. In the story, Kerouac asked Demaras to come inside.
“Then he pops open some beers and gets Mikey drunk,” Pappas said.
Demaras never ran for office, but worked diligently behind the scenes, his wife Patricia Demaras said. He was a founding member of Greater Lowell Area Democrats, a Democratic State Committeeman for 27 years, chair of the Lowell Democratic City Committee for 30 years and a delegate to the Massachusetts Democratic State Convention since 1985.
When prominent democrats came to town, Demaras often got a call, his wife said.
Patti Kirwin-Keilty, Chief of Staff for state Sen. Edward Kennedy, said she met Demaras on a campaign in 1972, while she was still in high school. Over the years, they continued to work together.
“Mike was so easy-going,” she said. “Always telling a story.”
Former state Sen. Steve Panagiotakos said he met Demaras when he was first getting involved in politics and running for Lowell School Committee.
“I didn’t know anything about politics and Mike was one of the people who supported me and had some experience in politics, especially local politics,” he said.
Like Pappas, Panagiotakos remembers Demaras addressing issues in the city both reactively and proactively.
“From a city service standpoint, we lost a good one. ... A true Lowellian. He loved Lowell and he loved the people there,” Panagiotakos said. “He appreciated it like I do. It’s a city of character and characters and they’re all to be enjoyed.”
Demaras had two younger brothers Mark and Matthew. He and his wife had two children, Christopher and Michael. His wife remembers going door to door as a family distributing leaflets during campaigns.
Every night, she said the family would sit down together for dinner and have “lively” discussions. Sometimes they talked about about politics, which Demaras followed closely on all levels.
She said Demaras had a “rebellious” streak and wore his hair long when he was younger. Panagiotakos remembered Demaras applying to the Screen Actors Guild so he could perform in a short, locally shot and released movie about Sasquatch mythology.
Shortly before Demaras turned 50, he bought a Fender guitar and learned to play. He and his two sons would sometimes play music together.
“He just loved the Beatles so it was all Beatles song,” Patricia Demaras said.
Friends said his health declined shortly after his retirement last year. After Demaras died earlier this month, Lowell City Council held a moment of silence, preceded by remembrances by several city councilors.
“He was a credit to this city being a link between the neighborhoods and city right here at City Hall,” said Councilor Rita Mercier, who first met him while working on a campaign.
During services later that week, the route from the funeral home to the church passed by Lowell City Hall.
When the procession passed, a crowd several people deep lined the street in his honor. The display, his wife said, was overwhelming.
“You could tell they just really cared about him,” she said. “So many people talked about how he was trying to fix things and solve problems. He really enjoyed doing that. It was the perfect job for him.”
Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @ElizDobbins.